GW2: Social Dilemmas in the Ruins of Lion’s Arch

To take this screenshot, I had to be a bad person and not rescue any citizens...

I wonder if Guild Wars 2 players ever feel that they’re just taking part in one grand ol’ economics experiment?

Be it by accident or design, the devs who created the Escape from Lion’s Arch activity of this latest update seem to have stumbled into another one:

The Public Goods Dilemma

The Public Good Game has the same properties as the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game but involving more than two individuals. A public good is a resource from which all may benefit regardless of whether they contributed to the good. For instance, people can enjoy the city parks regardless of whether they contributed to their upkeep through local taxes. Public goods are non-excludable: Once these goods are provided nobody can be excluded from using them. As a result, there is a temptation to enjoy the good without making a contribution. Those who do so are called free-riders, and while it is rational to free-ride, if all do so the public good is not provided and all are worse off.

— From “Social Dilemma” on Wikipedia

Citizens rescued are the public good in this case.

Selfless individuals who choose to lower their personal reward (of bags collected, and potential rare/exotic drops) in favor of reviving and escorting citizens to safety contribute to a collective counter of citizens saved.

A communal reward is given to all in the map at 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved.

The arguably best reward is at 1,500, where one received an Ultimate citizen’s bag that has a chance of producing items from a previous Living Story update.

So far, I’ve managed to get a Recipe: Superior Rune of Antitoxin (valued at 14 gold if anyone ever buys it off the TP) once, and 4 pieces of Salvageable Aetherized Metal Scraps (worth pretty much nothing) another time, plus all the extra goodies of the current update (found heirlooms, children’s drawings, dragonite ore, yadda yadda.)

Meanwhile, thoughtless individuals who act in rational self-interest are liable to glom onto zergs, seeking the highest reward achievable for the least effort and risk, spamming 1 to win the standard flow of bags and loot, while benefiting from whatever level the citizen counter happens to hit.

Or they’re running around by themselves, skipping past mobs they either can’t kill (elites) or can’t be bothered to kill (everything else), rummaging around in rubble piles for found heirlooms, creating a stunningly realistic simulation of looters profiting from disasters.

This is the problem of the free rider.

I played for over 2 years in A Tale in the Desert. Social dilemmas fascinate me.

It’s been interesting to observe how devs and players are responding to this turn of events in GW2, though I have a distinct feeling that the casual time-starved are the group of players losing out in this particular situation.

For instance, the update launched with what appeared to be a bug for citizen count reward as opposed to what was released in the patch notes. Rewards were being given out at 100, 500, ? (probably 1000), 1,500 and 2000 citizens.

Players managed to rescue 100 and got a small reward that didn’t seem worth it. Zerging around never got past 300-400 rescued, and thus 500 seemed impossible, prompting pretty much the entire populace to drop citizen rescue like a hot potato and spam 1 to win instead.

I’m sure it didn’t help that the standard scaling for events was creating a wealth of veterans and champions with their standard loot drops, while unintended bugs were doing odd things to the citizen counters in main maps (first never resetting per attempt, and then resetting completely unpredictably.)

With the immediate feedback of immediate loot, and completely unreliable feedback of what one might achieve by hitting 1,500 citizens, the bulk of players responded appropriately.

ZERG ZERG ZERG 11!111111!11 ZERG ZERG !1111!111

Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I'm carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots.
Okay, so this is a lousy screenshot of a not very big zerg. I’m carrying a loot stick (guardian staff) though! In my defence, too busy spamming 1 during the really good mob spawns to worry about screenshots. This was merely downtime between dolyaks.

Probably to the immense horror of the less cynical designers involved in the effort.

Oh, it’s not that other players couldn’t see the intent.

It’s just that the long-term reward was too slight and far-off a chance of gaining something really good, versus the larger chance you’ll get nothing worth mentioning, plus the attractiveness of the short term reward.

Stealth tweaks were made as patches popped in to fix the more egregious bugs.

The most obvious is that the citizen counter went back to rewarding 100, 300, 600, 1000 and 1,500 citizens saved. A zergy overflow map now has a better chance of hitting the level 2 or level 3 group effort communal reward, though the later two rewards are still pegged at a level that requires cooperation and coordination and organization from at least half to a majority of players on the map.

Less obvious is that the number of mobs produced in response to scaling has dropped on particular dynamic events. The Black Lion Dolyaks used to produce an incredibly insane number of veteran aetherblades in response to a big population gathered in the vicinity, and spawned quite often. That has now dropped a tad.

It’s still been interesting to note that a percentage of players are simply quite blind to these subtle tweaks. They gather together because numbers = safety in their mind, and because big bright orange circles on the minimap called them to the area, regardless of what is actually happening.

Only 10 mobs spawn? Nevermind, we’ll try to tag them anyway! Some will win, others will lose out.

30 Elites have spawned and are pwning the zerg together with extra anti-zerg AoE effects? Obviously, we need to throw MORE bodies at it to defeat them! Meanwhile, I’ll just lay here dead and beg for a rez from people busy struggling to stay alive themselves, and whine that no one cares about me.

Of course, it’s been interesting as well to note the other side of the equation.

For whatever reason moves them internally, a few people are choosing to act altruistically, rezzing players and citizens alike, either doing their best in whatever zerg they find themselves in, or seeking out an immersive solo or small group experience in the disaster zone that is Lion’s Arch.

Others, driven to frustration by the rapacious hordes, and most likely motivated by greed for a potential big payoff, respond by seeking out their own organized collectives and communicating for better coordination.

Most notable is a lovely map created by Rainwhisper and posted on Reddit, which clarifies visually for those who are willing, but running around lost looking for citizens, as to where the largest groupings are.

I snuck in my party of five strategy in that thread, formulated by many instances of fighting to build continous citizen chains at the Crow’s Nest Tavern/Coriolis Plaza and White Crane Terrace, where one or two people could be overwhelmed by stray elites, but five can easily clear mobs (thus still maximizing personal loot) and rescue swiftly.

Someone else also made a grouping map that covers the obvious areas, though folks haven’t really taken to using it yet.

TTS has made their own forays onto the map. The first few attempts got close at 1200 citizens twice, another scraped close at 1451 citizens (with 1/4 of TTS stuck outside the overflow griping at those noncontributers taking up space within), and the last three rounds have cleared 1500, albeit on a less populated server map at off hours.

1535 citizens
1535 citizens and counting, my group stationing themselves at the Crow’s Nest Tavern
1544 citizens and counting, this time in another group at the White Crane Terrace

I find it quite intriguing to read Reddit reports that the EU equivalent of TTS, TxS, has apparently gotten more closed off as time passes. It seems to imply what I’ve always maintained about game difficulty rising to ‘raid’ level. When the coordination and organization required rises beyond casual levels, it’s super easy to slip into an elitist and exclusionary attitude.

Personally, I have been guilty of it in this update.

Stuck outside on one TTS attempt, I spent much of my rising blood pressure alternately cursing out the damned noncontributing PUGs and PUGmander trying to zerg on an overflow going for a 1500 citizen attempt, spamming my mouse button to death to try and get in, wishing one of the free riders would crash the hell out of the game, and wishing for a private overflow that only our megaguild could access.

While being as much use as a block of wood in the overflow I was sitting in, spam clicking “Join Party Member in Overflow” by the entrance.

Me, the champion of inclusion.

If this isn’t an example of slippery slope, I dunno what is.

An even more interesting development has been the formation of a new guild, MEDx, dedicated to saving 1500 citizens. Their success rate has been improving as their ranks start to fill, enabling them to squeeze more of their number onto one overflow…

…despite a seriously broken overflow accessing system.

It’s hard to know the proper solution for these dilemmas.

Give us the private instances we want, and you’ll never see us again interacting with the hoi polloi.

People would end up feeling forced to join up to progress their goals, as opposed to the current system which allows for chance encounters and the instilled desire to join up based on a good experience with the guild.

Yet if we go without, the designers are limited to only creating encounters for the lowest common denominator, zergfests of loot pinatas that crumble to 1 spamming, fun in their own way, but whose novelty wears off fast.

(I remember how I ultimately got bored of City of Heroes’ standard mob distribution: 2 mobs 1 lt. or 3 mobs per solo spawn, big clumpy mass of 2-4 bosses and lt./minion mix for 8 in a team. No variance = yawnfest.)

I suppose it’s never a dichotomy.

In a way, it’s nice that the two can exist alongside each other. Coordinated attempt giving a different type of payoff as compared to a more zergy casual style. The trick is making sure neither side feels like they’re losing out or being affected overly much by each others’ choice of playstyle co-existing on the same map.

I mean, I play both ways as and when I feel like it. Some days, you just want to zerg. Or spend an overflow hunting rubble locations for the once daily heirlooms. Some days, you want to make a serious attempt at 1500 citizens. But it would be way too stressful to HAVE to play that way all the time, in order to get any reward whatsoever.

With some irony, I note that in between my first drafting this post and going off for a nice extended weekend breakfast/lunch outing, a patch has apparently been released to once again ratchet down the number of civilians required to: 100, 300, 600, 900 and 1200.

Is anyone else getting the feeling that they started with the goalposts at a very hopeful and optimistic distance, and are now adjusting it incrementally downward until they hit a sweet spot?

Still, time will tell whether this lowered number will prompt more people to step up on their own, and seek out and rescue citizens by themselves as the counter creeps closer to a good reward, or whether it encourages more folks to sit back and engage in social loafing, presuming that someone else will do it and they can reap the extra rewards from farming and the group reward to boot.

I suppose part of the problem is random overflows. All the servers are mixed together as strangers, who may never meet again, and thus owe no allegiance towards each other. Iterated prisoner’s dilemmas can never happen, since no one might encounter each other again, and the rational choice becomes to defect all the time.

Within an organized guild, or with familiar people, more people are inclined to cooperate, as there is a larger guarantee that the group will be working together as a collective towards the big payoff, rather than being the one poor sap taken advantage of by free riders.

Perhaps a nice first step before any more “social coordination” challenges are made might be the introduction of better tools for organizing a map of random people.

Different colored commander tags… Ways to see and assign various parties, or see and direct different squads of people to certain areas… A district system a la Guild Wars 1 where specific numbers are assigned to overflows and people can queue up in orderly fashion like in the new and improved WvW maps of today… Less fanatical map channel suppression for people actually trying to give directions to a map…

…Alliances and alliance chat…


…Stuff like that.

8 thoughts on “GW2: Social Dilemmas in the Ruins of Lion’s Arch

  1. Well, before any of that they really need to FIX THE BUGS!

    I am neither exaggerating nor being ironic when I say that GW2 is hands-down, no contest the buggiest MMO I have ever played. It escapes (barely) the most heinous bugs that rendered Vanguard unplayable for many, but at every other level it makes even early Vanguard look like WoW in comparison.

    This major update has been out for days now. The servers have been down and patched at least twice that I’ve seen. The event still doesn’t even begin to work reliably. Yesterday I did it about half a dozen times. It worked properly once, on Overflow, of course, the only place it has ever worked.

    On all the other runs on Yaks Bend the miasma counter was full when we arrived. On some runs the “Citizens Rescued” counter did not display at all and on these runs no reward was given at any of the rescue stages.

    Maybe we didn’t rescue anyone at all? Well you might think that had we also received no reward whatsoever for any of the stages on one of the runs where we could see the count. We hit 600 on one run and no-one got anything.

    Then there was the run where no events spawned at all for the first ten or fifteen minutes. That was fun. When they did start to spawn some of them stayed missing, including the one I wanted, the Lighthouse Workers, which, instead of happening about every ten minutes never happened at all.

    Given the shockingly incompetent, unfinished and buggy state of the update it hardly seems worth analyzing or critiquing the content, but let’s do it anyway. Firstly, as has been pointed out repeatedly in map chat, it’s basically Scarlet Invasions 2.0. Those were popular for a while with people who like to zerg for loot. Guess what? This is too.

    It was apparent to everyone during the Scarlet Invasion season that as soon as the majority of players had their Achievements they stopped trying to win the event and began to farm it instead. If that’s not intended behavior, why use exactly the same format again and expect different results.

    Personally, I think it IS intended behavior. For all the complaints from the elite that zerging is A Bad Thing and we should all L2P, GW2 thrives on zergs. It came to market on a casual-friendly, low-investment, ease-of-access ticket and it quickly picked up a reputation as a low-skill, spam 1 zergfest MMO. That may be unfair but it’s hard to deny that it has contributed heavily to GW2’s continued popularity.

    When it comes to the high-skill aspects of GW2 – dungeons, fractals, and especially Teq/Wurm mega-raids, these tend to have a very poor reputation among outside observers and are either grudgingly accepted or ignored by a significant part of the playing population.

    The thing about zerging is, no-one makes people do it. If there are 100 people in Lion’s Arch and 75 of them are in two or three zergs clumped around Commander icons, that’s because three-quarters of players chose to do that. Either they LIKE doing it (I do, for one) or they believe it’s effective for whatever it is they are trying to do, or it’s less bad than other things they’ve tried.

    We’ve had a year and a half of this. It’s not emergent behavior any more, it’s just behavior. If the community as a whole wanted to co-operate routinely and reliably at the level required to complete the big co-ordinated events in LA, from the three-ways achis to the 1500 rescue, they’d be doing it – IF it wasn’t buggy and IF the bar wasn’t set at an unreachably high level.

    It’s possible, I suppose, that ANet actually want to turn their game into a single-server set-up but just don’t have the technology yet. Perhaps they are deliberately adding content that can only feasibly be completed by massive cross-server guilds exploiting the Overflow system. If so, maybe they should just give all the servers numbers instead of names and let us flip between them at will. Perhaps, if they hadn’t lumbered themselves with WvW, that’s exactly what they would be doing.

    Better yet they could stop trying to nudge their 3 million plus box buyers towards some kind of ultra-co-operative metagame and go back to producing the kind of casual-friendly, self-organizing, “stuff just happens” content that sold most of those boxes in the first place.

    /rant off

    I’m enjoying Escape from LA despite all that. Meta complete on first account in two days, half done on second account already and I haven’t even played all that much. I just do what I like and it all seems to work out fine. I rescue citizens all the time because rescuing them is easy and fun. I rez people all the time cos that’s fun too, although often not so easy and frequently fatal for both of us. I zerg til I fall through a bridge or spot something that distracts me then I go exploring on my own. Half of LA has no mobs in it at all now – great for taking screenshots.

    As for the loot in the event, it’s just rubbish, isn’t it? Apart from the cloth. That’s always good to have.


  2. Well great! Now I don’t need to further blog about this. I was going to bring up how interesting it is that Medx was created, and it reminded me too of ATITD.

    You are right though, players need immediate reward. Filling a personal counter of saved citizens or getting a bag for a citizen or something was necessary.

    Last OF I was in there were people zerging molten! That is dumb beyond words because it is hard to farm because of protectors. Oh, now mr. dumb zerg led by “Smokin Pimp” now you have champion protectors.

    Of course we hit 1200 so Smokin Pimp et al. got their goody bag anyway.


  3. I haven’t even bothered buying a commander tag for a while, in part because I still haven’t gotten the 200 gold achievement despite having more than that amount through the life of the game, and also in part because there’s no real use for it in PvE. Any time I an event like this happens, the anti-zerg elements for completing the goal means there’s no point in doing it, unless you’re going to camp out in the Western Ward and try to lure players not in the know over there.

    My server is also bugged, so all I do once I see that is immediately leave the city and walk back in, landing in an overflow. From there my attempts usually reach Group Level IV, and my one attempt since the recent patch has reached Group Level V. Maybe I’m just getting lucky.

    All I can say is, other people getting the meta reward for free doesn’t take away my satisfaction of getting the reward from my own effort. I’ve done the event about 10 times since it’s come in and I don’t get tired of running over and saving civilians. Hell, even one time where I stayed on the bugged main server just to see what’d happen myself, it took me nearly 30 minutes before I started exploring only for heirlooms despite learning that saving civilians wouldn’t produce any rewards after the first five minutes.

    And for me, part of the magic of GW2 is overcoming these challenges with a random group of people. I loved doing the Marionette for the same reason. Just playing this game with me is self-selecting enough; I haven’t bothered joining any cross server guilds for any of the content yet. I have been considering starting a server specific guild for all of these types of content, though. I haven’t actually beaten Teq or the Wurm on my account, but the few server attempts made for it consistently fall apart. If I made a server specific guild with a once a day schedule for some boss or LS event attempt it could be fun.

    It could also be that I’m not frustrated by failure. I’m not in it for the greed. I don’t need a Legendary or some other high cost item. I keep spending some gold every two weeks or so and never float much higher than 100 gold. Just having the cooperative effort is fun in itself for me.

    The fact that I can singlehandedly be responsible for at least 100 survivors throughout the 40 minute time limit also helps, I guess.


  4. Just completed 1200 citizens at Reset on YB. Miasma bar was full when we logged in but other than that everything worked. I spent the whole 50 minutes in and around the ogre cave rezzing and encouraging. I estimate I saved 50 citizens at least.

    Spent the entire time amusing myself by asking the people exhorting everyone in Map to focus on Citizens for the “good loot” what the “good loot” might be. No one could answer because there is no good loot.

    It’s 100% worth going for the 1200 citizens for the entertainment value but if you want loot you’ll do better at The Maw, in a WvW karma train or in ten minutes on any Champ train.


    1. The good loot is a lie.

      Except for those two bastards I know that got monocles.

      *stares forlornly at 10 watchwork sprockets, 5 dragon coffers and 10 quartz crystals in mah bags*

      And no, the dragon coffer did not have the decency to offer a dragon’s jade claim ticket. I guess I can at least use the koi cake when I eventually get around to making a condi build for my necro.


  5. Nice one, similar thoughts came up my mind, but i never cared to think them to the end. anyway i want to add another view to that: you wrote that people doing stuff they get no obvious reward for act altruistically. i think thats not really true. i almost always go for citicens, because it simply is more fun, and thats what playing games is about. making strategies, producing maps and so on is fun, because you think about a problem and try to solve it (maybe fun isnt the right word for it, but i think you get my point). all of this adds an extra variable to these kind of problems (the prisoner dilema …): what people regard as a reward is up to them and cannot be defined from outside.


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